Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Fistful of Reads: October Edition

So, this month saw me reading a classic to my kids and indulging on two literary master's answer to the 'short story collection'.  Sadly, those masters didn't quite live up to my expectations, but a classic is a classic and continues to delight me (and thankfully my children as well).

That classic was 'The Swiss Family Robinson'.  Have you read this?  It is such a brilliant book because it manages to be so many different things (including genres) while remaining astonishingly grounded from chapter to chapter.  The great thing about this particular novel is that the storytelling itself is right up to par with the actual story, which can actually be a problem with some of these older, critically acclaimed novels.  I remember reading 'Treasure Island' to my daughters and we were all squinting at times with the way in which the novel was written (I ultimately finished it on my own).  Thankfully, Wyss is on top of every moment in this book.  His language is so fluid and easy to read (and listen to).  You find yourself engaged in every sentence, and the great thing is that no matter how familiar you are with the story itself, you remain excited and intrigued with each reading.

The rest of my month, while not a complete waste, was less rewarding.

Of the two collections I read, 'On Booze' by the late, great F. Scott Fitzgerald was my favorite.  It was light and breezy (it took me all of a day to read) and yet it carried with it that same aftertaste.  It was hollow and somewhat pointless.  It also comes with the stigma of poor marketing, since this collection really has nothing to do with Fitzgerald's notorious alcoholism.  That isn't to say that he doesn't get into some interesting content here, and 'My Lost City' is filled with insightful ramblings, but as a whole it is rather slight upon reflection.  It is a very easy read (such flow, but that is consistent with Fitzgerald's work) but an underwhelming one.

'Nocturnes', but Kazuo Ishiguro,  was far worse.  

Writing a short story is an art in it of itself, and not every author is equipped for such a task.  It’s hard to condense a theme, a thought, a complete narrative and make it feel alive and fresh with minimal words and pages.  Not every author has that ability.  Reading ‘Nocturnes’ has me questioning Ishiguro’s ability.  His character detail is better suited for fuller novels, where the characters and scenarios have pages to unfold and develop.  With only a few short pages to give us what we need, many of Ishiguro’s stories falls short here.

‘Nocturnes’ contains five stories with one running similarity, music.  In one way or another, each story focuses on music.  We have musicians or just plain music lovers, and the core of each story finds itself embellished by a musical moment of some sort.  There is a scene of crooning set in the canals of Venice.  There is a slow dance in the moonlight.  There is a serenade in the hilltops.  The point is that music is present and thus a major part of these stories.  Sadly, that is not enough.  The only story here that feels complete and that actually makes a real impact for me was ‘Malvern Hill’, which made the most of three separate storylines and actually felt complete.  ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ was ridiculous, silly and contrived and lacked any real spark.  In the end I wanted to slap everyone and scream “NO ONE ACTS LIKE THIS” at the book, but that would have been just as silly as the story itself.  In fact, silly is something that I felt described most of the stories here.  The plot of ‘Nocturnes’ was rather silly as well, and the whole turkey incident felt unintentionally comical (or maybe it is just that Ishiguro writes awkward comedy) and while the closing story, ‘Cellists’, is written extremely well, I must admit that the big reveal felt a tad nonsensical.  ‘Crooner’ is a great opener though, and it makes me wish that the collection closed with ‘Nocturnes’ (for the obvious connective tissue) and so with that and ‘Marvern Hill’ I can’t say that this is a complete failure.

So that was my month.  I'm tired of having all around unfulfilled months of reading (I had such a great start to the year) but I'm ONE BOOK away from my 30 book goal, and I have two months to digest it.

Dare I start Les Miserables?  I consider it (am still considering it) but I fear that 2 months is not long enough to digest it AND work and take care of a family.  I NEED THREE!!!  

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, I haven't read Swiss Family Robinson. I grew up with the Disney film, but maybe I should check out the book.

    You could always read a short book to reach your goal, then start Les Miserables.